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Hall School Students ‘Stars’ of New Video on Immigration

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Hall School Students ‘Stars’ of New Video on Immigration
Posted on 09/15/2015
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What is it like being a kid and a new immigrant to Maine? This past summer, 35 Hall Elementary School students shared their feelings on being new Mainers and welcoming newcomers in a video that will premiere on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Portland Public Library. The event also features the release of Maine author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien’s new children’s book, “I’m New Here."

The screening and book release event, which is open to the community, starts at 2 p.m. in the library’s Rines Auditorium. It is a way to celebrate National Welcoming Week, a series of nationwide events that highlight the contributions of immigrants to America, bringing together recent arrivals and U.S.-born members of receiving communities in a spirit of unity.

The event will be attended by the “stars” of the video, which was made by Maine videographer Fred Ben, as well as the students’ families and other community members. There will be book sales and signing and snacks from the city’s various multicultural markets.

The students this summer shared their experiences about being new and welcoming new Mainers with O’Brien. “Being new feels happy, shy and scared,” one third-grader said.

O’Brien’s book, which is a picture book for elementary school students, features three characters that are recent immigrants: Maria, from Guatemala; Jin, from Korea; and Fatima, from Somalia. Each struggles with English, but through their own determination, as well as  encouragement from peers and teachers, they learn to feel confident and comfortable in their new school without losing a sense of their home countries, languages and identities.

“Over the years as I was doing school presentations and creating books, I noticed there was a missing piece in how we often perceive and portray immigrant children,” says O’Brien. “There is a sense that these children arrive as ‘blank slates.’  With this book, I wanted to show that these children bring with them full, complete, rich lives in which they have already accomplished so much and know so much. And now they have to build a new life all over again.”

Fred Ben’s video of Hall School students’ ideas on welcoming immigrants will be shared nationwide in a campaign of welcoming based on O’Brien’s book. Videographer Fred Ben was himself a new arrival at the age of 7 when he came to the United States from the Sudan. Ben pursued videography partially because of the role TV and film played in teaching him English and about American culture.

“Portland, Maine is a model of welcoming,” says Portland school board member Pious Ali, “We should be proud that not only has this new book come out of Anne’s experiences in our multicultural community, but that the book and video featuring Portland school children will be a model for schools nationally.”

The event is sponsored by Portland Public Library and “I’m Your Neighbor,” a project that encourages the use of children’s books to create bridges between community members who are new arrivals and long-term residents.